E.B. White (1899–1985) is the bestselling author of Charlotte’s Web and The Trumpet of the Swan.
Here are four of his fantastic quotes to inspire your writing!
1. Genius is more often found in a cracked pot than in a whole one.
This is one of E.B. White’s most famous quotes, and it’s not hard to see why. It’s difficult to designate who a genius writer might be, but I’ll tell you this much: an amazing story rarely comes in something that’s a perfect package and more often comes in something that has a few dents along the side. You’ll never be a perfect writer. And it’s going to be a major chore to write a story or novel that from first word to last is pure perfection.
What’s important is that you try to do your best every time. Don’t worry if you’re not a genius. Don’t even think about that word. And throw out that perfection word, too. You’ll never get anywhere if you try to be perfect. Doing things just right usually results in something that’s not even very good most of the time, especially in the world of writing. You’ll be better served to go after something that’s unique and personal, something that has a few cracks in it. And you know what? Your readers will all the happier for it.
2. There’s no limit to how complicated things can get, on account of one thing always leading to another.
One of the hardest parts about fiction writing, especially novel writing, is in keeping everything straight in your head as you get closer to the end of your narrative. You need to remember all the characters and their motivations. You have to make sure there aren’t any loose plot threads and that everything comes together by the final chapter. You have to make sure something you set up in chapter seven has some kind of pay-off by the time you reach THE END. Things do get complicated after awhile, one thing always leading to another, and it can be hard at times to keep track of it all.
But you know what will always be your wonderful savior? Revision, of course! I can’t tell you how many mistakes I’ve made during the drafting process. I’ve called a supporting character one name in the first half of the novel and then accidentally called him or her something else in the second half. I’ll on occasion have a character repeat the same thing three times in dialogue. A random chapter will be written in past tense even though the novel is supposed to be present tense. Things like that will happen, and you can’t beat yourself up over it.
All you have to do is this: use the second draft to fix the problems. Go through your novel and take notes about anything that doesn’t work or lacks consistency. And by the end of your third draft, most of it, if not all of it, will be fixed. So don’t panic in your first draft if something isn’t coming together the way you wanted, or if you realize you made a few huge errors along the way. Nobody is going to read your first draft. Just keep revising, revising, revising — until everything works.
3. It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer.
Why is this true? Because to be a good writer, you have to spend lots and lots of time by yourself working on your craft. You have to put off the parties and the social events and the late-night get-togethers to write your next chapter and draft that newest short story. When you’re a dedicated writer, you can’t always be there for your friends, even your best friends. You have to skip a lot of events in your life so you can do the necessary work, and that’s something many people might refuse to do after awhile. They’d rather spend time with their friends on a Saturday afternoon than write more of their novel.
The truth is after many years you’re able to find a system where you can be both a true friend and a good writer. You can find those two to three hours in your day to write and then spend time with friends and family during other parts of the day. If you schedule your time right, you can have both most of the time. But it can be hard, there’s no doubt about it. You have to be willing to sacrifice some of your social life to focus on your craft, or you’ll never get any better. You have to put in the time, always, if you want to be a good writer.
4. We should all do what, in the long run, gives us joy, even if it is only picking grapes or sorting the laundry.
Not everything will go well every time you sit down at your writing desk. Sometimes you have a strong handle on the scene you’re writing, and the session will go fast and splendidly. Those are the best writing days, they really are. You walk away from your desk excited about the work you’ve done and amazed at how quickly everything came together. You feel so much joy.
But then sometimes you don’t have a strong handle on your scene, and you struggle for hours on end. You struggle writing five sentences. There are lots of snack breaks and staring out the window and tipping your fingernails against the desk. You don’t feel as much joy on those days. You feel like a fraud and that you’ll never have what it takes to be a successful writer. You might feel compelled to pick grapes or sort the laundry instead. E.B. White was right: you should do what in the long run gives you joy.
But clearly, especially if you’ve made it this far, you have a deep love of writing. Clearly you’re looking for inspiration and want to keep going no matter how long it takes. And it’s my firm belief that as long as writing gives you joy at least some of the time, then it’s worth pursuing. It’s worth studying and practicing and getting better at. No matter how many frustrating days you might have, keep going. You might eventually find joy radiating all around you every time you sit down at your writing desk.
PS Ready to be inspired? My newest craft book From Douglas Adams to Markus Zusak: Quotes by 100 Amazing Authors to Inspire Your Writing is now available on Amazon!